Federal appeals court to hear Texas abortion case on Jan. 7

A federal appeals court said Monday it will hear oral arguments Jan. 7 in a high-profile case centered on the country’s most restrictive abortion law.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Louisiana, scheduled the hearing after the Supreme Court this month declined to block enforcement of the Texas law known as S.B. 8 while allowing abortion providers in the state to proceed with their legal challenge.

“The court has decided that oral argument is appropriate before ruling on the state’s motion to certify or alternate motion to set a briefing schedule, and the response thereto. Consequently, the argument will be held at 9 am in New Orleans on Friday, January 7, 2022,” the appeals court said Monday in a filing.

The Supreme Court this month remanded the case to the 5th Circuit, where Texas officials, led by state Attorney General Ken Paxton, plan to ask the appeals court to direct the Texas Supreme Court to rule on whether state licensing officials can enforce the ban before the case is sent back to federal district court.

Circuit Judge Stephen Higginson dissented Monday, arguing that the case should instead be remanded to the district court.

“I respectfully disagree with the majority’s decision to hear oral argument on this remand from the United States Supreme Court. I do not read the Supreme Court’s judgment, especially in a case of this magnitude and acceleration, to countenance such delay,” said Higginson, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama. “I would immediately remand the case to the district court.”

The Texas law bans abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy — before many women know they are pregnant. It has no exceptions for rape or incest. The statute also delegates enforcement to any person, anywhere, who can sue any doctor for performing an abortion or anyone who aids in the procedure. Those suing can collect at least $10,000 if their lawsuits succeed.

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